Firing Your Personal Injury Attorney

Just so you know, I’m not generally in favor of you firing your attorney, especially if it’s me! But sometimes things just aren’t working out and like in any relationship, the healthy thing might be to part ways, so let’s talk about that situation.

There’s any number of reasons you might want to fire your personal injury attorney. But what you need to find out before you do anything drastic is whether or not your reasons are reasonable. In other words, is it maybe the case that your expectations are the problem, not the work the attorney is doing? Without some outside insight on your situation, it may be hard to say for sure either way.

If you’re unsatisfied with your personal injury attorney, it won’t hurt to call another attorney and talk to them about whether or not you’re being unreasonable or if your attorney just isn’t living up to your (legitimate) expectations. There can be a lot of nuance in personal injury law and every case is different, but normally an attorney in the same field and jurisdiction can tell pretty quickly if you’re attorney is the problem or if it’s your expectations not being aligned with reality.

If it turns out that your expectations are reasonable and your attorney just isn’t cutting it, there are still more concerns to consider. How close are you to your statute of limitations? If you’re close, it may be really hard to find another attorney willing to take your case on (this is what was called a “malpractice trap” when I was in law school, and we were all wisely warned against getting involved in really old cases). So while it might be generally OK to look to switch horses in the middle of the race, you better make sure there’s actually another horse to switch to before you jump off.

If you determine that firing your attorney is still the right thing to do, then your next question is going to be “what do I owe them?” I can’t speak to every attorney’s fee agreement, but generally we all have a contingency fee arrangement that means if we don’t get the case resolved for you, we don’t get paid a fee. However, we also still have what’s called a quantum meruit claim, which means that we could ask you to pay us some reasonable fee for the amount of work we have done, to date, on your case. Most of the time fired attorneys don’t seek to enforce that right (for several reasons that aren’t terribly important) BUT you should still consider it, and probably discuss it with the attorney, before you make your move.

So, you’ve gotten some good insight, you’ve determined it’s still a good time to fire your attorney, and you aren’t worried about what you might owe them. How do you fire your personal injury attorney? It’s pretty simple: just tell them they’re fired, in whatever language you choose to use. Just make it clear that they’re off your case and ask for a copy of your file. The Bar says you have to give them a “reasonable” amount of time to provide the file copy, but nowadays, I feel like “reasonable” isn’t very long at all. I could probably email your file to you in a few seconds if you wanted me to.

To summarize, it’s not always a good idea to fire your attorney. Maybe it’s your expectations that need adjusting, not your attorney that needs changing. But sometimes it’s not you, it’s them, and you need to be rid of them. Just make sure you’ve considered the facts of your case and how easy it will be to find a replacement before you do anything that can’t be undone. I’ve personally taken on a lot of second hand cases and made them work. But I’ve also declined more than I’ve taken on. Seek reliable advice from an experienced personal injury lawyer…like me. Call me at 919-929-2992.

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Jeffrey Allen Howard, Attorney at Law, PLLC
1829 E. Franklin St. - Bldg 600
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

(P) 919-929-2992
(F) 919-636-4779

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